Jameis Winston said he feels "blessed and grateful" to be making his first start in two years for the New Orleans Saints this week. And he said he and his teammates will be playing for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf South region in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
"First of all, I've got something on my heart," Winston said when he opened his first news conference since being chosen as New Orleans' starter. "I want to say thank you to all the first responders in New Orleans and all the people on the ground right now and all the grassroots organizations [working] to help our city be resilient. ... We're with you. We're gonna represent you."
Winston followed by asking anyone from the Gulf South region or Florida to try to make it to Sunday's "home" game against the Green Bay Packers, which has been relocated to Jacksonville while New Orleans is still recovering from the hurricane.
"We need all our Saints fans out there," Winston said.
Winston, 27, will be making his first start with the Saints after he joined the team last year to back up Drew Brees and try to revive his career. The former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick went 28-42 as a starter during his first five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before they decided to move on from him after his rookie contract expired and replaced him with Tom Brady.
Winston beat Taysom Hill for New Orleans' starting gig this summer following Brees' retirement. Winston sealed the deal with a stellar performance in the Saints' second preseason game, completing 9 of 10 passes for 123 yards and two deep touchdowns to receiver Marquez Callaway.
"It felt great [to be named the starter]," Winston said. "It's just fun, it's a blessing to have the opportunity to lead the pack. I'm just grateful for it. It's been more than a year removed for me having an opportunity, and I'm not taking anything for granted. And I'm just blessed and grateful.
"And I'm grateful to my teammates for pushing me, I'm grateful to Taysom for pushing me."
Winston has focused on improving his decision-making, among other things, after he infamously became the first player in NFL history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season in 2019 -- while also leading the NFL with 5,109 passing yards.
Asked what the next step is for him now, he said, "Just consistent preparation, that's the biggest thing."
"We're preparing for the Green Bay Packers," Winston said. "We've got a lot of stuff going on, but we've got to be consistent in our day-to-day preparation. We cannot lose focus and go out there ready to play and give our best efforts."
The Saints have been training in the Dallas area since evacuating New Orleans on Aug. 28 because of Ida, first using the Cowboys' facilities, then using TCU's facilities throughout this week.
"I think it's more difficult for the people that's actually going through a lot right now. We were blessed by this organization to relocate us to Dallas," said Winston, whose Dream Forever Foundation delivered supplies this week to first responders, including food, water, generators, gas and roofing materials. "We've gotta represent them, we're feeding off them. They're persevering and they're being resilient right now, and we have to do the same. There's a lot of people that are in way more difficult situations than we are.
"We're blessed, we get to go out and play a game that we love. The majority of us, we have our families with us. And we're just praying that everyone else's families are safe and secure in New Orleans. But the objective is to bring some excitement to the people of New Orleans by going out there and winning football game. I think that will do a lot."